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How to Foster a Healthy and Productive Workplace for LGBT Employees
Across all industries, companies face the same question: How can we best serve our employees? This is especially relevant to employers of LGBT individuals, who often confront less-than-supportive workplace policies and less-than-comfortable office dynamics. The good news is, as more and more organizations strengthen their diversity initiatives, there's ample opportunity to improve the work lives of LGBT individuals.
Below we explore four essential ways your business can become a beacon for workplace equality. From fair benefits to accessible bathrooms, diversity workshops to specialized clubs, these resources will create an environment in which LGBT employees can flourish and succeed.
Get Your Policies and Benefits in Order
Before implementing any company-wide changes, make sure your business is up to speed on its policies and benefits. Think of this as the groundwork upon which all additional progress must be built.
First, learn about the legislative landscape. Believe it or not, 31 states still lack fully inclusive nondiscrimination ordinances, meaning it's legal for employers to fire LGBT employees based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity. While supporters of the Equality Act are fighting for just that, it remains vital for organizations that believe in equality to enforce it within their policy and benefit programs.
Once you've familiarized yourself with the legislation, it's time to look at your organization. Your highest priority: confirming that an employee can be an open member of the LGBT community without risk of being fired from your company for that reason.
Follow up by looking at more specific policies: Do LGBT employees receive equal pay compared to non-LGBT employees? Are they allowed proper caregiver leave should they have a child or adopt? Do their spouses or partners get healthcare benefits and life insurance?
The Corporate Equality Index (CEI), an annual report put together by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation that rates LGBT equality in an array of workplaces, can be a useful resource for developing metrics at your organization. The CEI provides detailed insight into how leading companies are creating healthy environments for LGBT employees.
Google, which received a CEI score of 100 in 2017, is a fine example to strive toward. The tech giant dedicates an entire section of its career vertical to show how the organization cares for its employees through various life stages, from retirement plans to death benefits. While your company may be smaller and its benefits not as expansive as a place like Google, the visibility of employee health and wellness initiatives can set up your business to be exceptionally welcoming to LGBT workers.
Make Bathrooms Available to Everyone
Accessible bathrooms have been a hot-button topic, gaining particular political attention with North Carolina's HB2, also knows as the “Bathroom Bill," which requires individuals to use the restroom that corresponds with the gender they were assigned at birth. In effect, this ordinance discriminates against transgender or gender non-binary people. Outside the judicial sphere, notable companies have made an important contribution to the conversation by establishing gender-neutral bathrooms.
Target was an early adopter, opening gender-neutral bathroom in each of its 1,800 locations—and, as a Fortune 500 company, making a big statement to both customers and employees. “At the end of the day, Target is all about inclusion," Katie Boylan, a spokesperson for the business, told reporters in the summer of 2016. “We want everyone to feel comfortable in our stores."
Not operating a global retailer? Start small. If your office has multiple bathrooms, designate one as gender-neutral. Then, pass out literature explaining your decision — this can be an email or signage, but be sure to accompany it with a thoughtful, in-person team discussion . If your office only has one bathroom, the change should be easier, but still inform your employees about the change before switching to gender-neutral signage, which won't look too different from what you had before.
Launch Diversity Gatherings
One of the most efficient ways to enforce your company's dedication to equality is through gatherings. While these events can take various forms — employee outings, facilitated activities or speaking engagements and Q&As — the primary goal is to champion the diversity among your employees and create an open forum for conversation.
Starbucks, for instance, has remained dedicated to these types of exchanges. The company encourages employees to share their stories at events like the Inclusion and Diversity Roundtable.
For organizations new to diversity gatherings, outsourcing workshops to third-party companies like American Management Association or She Geeks Out can help foster an inclusive work ethos and encourage further initiatives. Or arrange a meeting with your organization's employee club leaders and ask them to submit topics for a company-wide panel, including proposed guests, themes and activities. This is an effective way of having your LGBT team members explore the avenues they find most interesting and relevant, and sharing these ideas with their larger workplace community.
Create LGBT Clubs for Employees
While diversity gatherings are focused on company-wide sharing and large-scale exercises, more focused clubs can help LGBT employees find camaraderie and support within a niche space.
Comcast's Employee Resource Groups serve as prime examples of how the corporate organization acknowledges its employees' diverse identities. These clubs range from the Black Employee Network to the MyAbilities Network to Out @Comcast group, which “[connects] LGBT employees and allies by contributing to a workplace environment that is LGBT aware, inclusive and productive for all employees."
Organizational clubs provide an intimate space for connection and growth through employee-led activities and community service. Moreover, they're where LGBT employees can create a culture of inclusion amid their own community and the larger workplace.
Your HR team should get the ball rolling by assisting interested employees with resources like a dedicated meeting space, budget, recommended guidelines and internal publicity. Think of HR as a means of bringing the right people together and encouraging them to forge relationships. Club members can then take it from there.
To attract the brightest LGBT talent,your business must have initiatives in place that create an environment of equality, open conversation and community. By creating benefits and policies strengthened by thoughtful exercises and gatherings, you'll secure your company as one that's welcoming of employees of all backgrounds, LGBT and beyond.